The hardest part of raising a child is teaching them to ride bicycles. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.
As I type this, Rowan is on a plane winging her way to Minneapolis, and then, after a long layover involving the Mall of America, she'll be flying on to London. That'll be the first stop of an 18-day itinerary involving England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. Lucky girl.
She's starting her second trip with the People to People Student Ambassador program. Last year she went to Australia for three weeks, a trip her father and I paid for. When she said she wanted to go on another trip, I told her she had to either earn or raise the money, no easy task for a 12-year-old. Lucky for her, she has the ability to go fishing with her father in the summer, and she worked hard for the month she was on the boat last year. She earned enough to pay for the trip, and I think (hope) that makes it a little more precious to her. That's quite a lesson for a girl just turned 13.
What does all this mean? She'll be spending three weeks with 30+ middle school kids exploring one little corner of the world. They have half a dozen adult chaperons, but for the most part she'll be responsible for managing her own stuff, making spending decisions, and being part of a group of people she's never met before. The program expects a surprising degree of independence from the kids, as we learned when her wallet was stolen last year and the group leaders offered her no support. Hopefully, this year will have no traumatic moments.
Oh, and did I mention she'll have no way of calling home? We agreed that she didn't really need a cell phone, so we didn't rent one with international capabilities. She'll be able to access Facebook and email with her Kindle Fire when they have wireless available, but for the most part, she'll be out of touch. That was a little problematic last year when we were trying to get money to her after the wallet incident, but not insurmountable.
I'm doing my best to raise an independent daughter who is capable of taking care of herself. I just think it's so sad and unfortunate to see a child go from living with her parents to living with a boyfriend (or girlfriend), and never taking the opportunity to live alone and be independent. I think it's so important to any person's self-confidence and sense of place in the world to know that no matter what happens, she can manage her money and household, handle whatever problems arise, and make good life decisions. That's not to say that mistakes or bad decisions will never be made, but at least she'll be able to own them and move on.
It may look like I'm willing to just toss Rowan out there to travel the world without any care for her well-being, but that's not true. I'd much rather be out there with her. (Damn it, she keeps going places I've never been!) But, since I can't be, and since I want her to be strong and independent, I'm willing to give her the support and freedom she needs to not only learn to ride a bike, but to grow up to take her place in an ever-changing world. I know she'll come back to me safe, and a better young woman for her experiences.